Stories of Terror and Horror: A Halloween GeekList
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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During the month of October, with Halloween drawing near, we are inundated with things that are intended to scare us. "Haunted houses" and other would-be frightening attractions abound, asking us to pay for the privelege of having costumed actors suddenly leap out at us waving cardboard axes over and over again, while horror movies can be found on numerous cable and satellite TV channels and yet another Saw movie is coming to a multiplex near you. Personally, the most frightening thing I've seen this year has been the cost to replace my house's water heater. No Secret Santa for me this year, can't afford to buy games for awhile.

Be that as it may, one of my favorite pastimes is curling up with a good book. Mostly I read nonfiction, specifically military history with a particular focus on the American Civil War. I also spend a lot of time reading game rules. When it comes to fiction, my tastes run to fantasy and horror. The idea came to me that the world was ripe for a GeekList of my favorite novels and stories in the horror genre.

Keep in mind that I am recommending the books here, not the movies that may have been made from them. Many of the works that I will list have been the basis for movies of varying quality. I'll make mention of these from time to time, but the focus here is on the works of fiction.

I've only scratched the surface. Feel free to expand on this list, to add your own favorite tales of ghoulies and ghosties and long-leggety beasties, and most of all those things that go bump in the night.
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1. Board Game: Fury of Dracula (second edition) [Average Rating:7.17 Overall Rank:402]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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Dracula, by Bram Stoker

The iconic vampire novel which laid the foundation for so many of the conventions about the undead monsters that we take for granted today. Of course, these days vampires are everywhere and many of them bear little resemblence to Stoker's creation. Without this book, it's likely that none of that would exist. I've had my fill of vampires (although they will appear again on this list) but that doesn't diminish the impact of this novel. Very much a product of its time, but still readable and effective today.
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2. Board Game: Vampire [Average Rating:5.59 Overall Rank:11937]
Michael Lavoie
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New Hampshire
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"Carmilla," by Sheridan LeFanu

Another 19th century vampire tale, not as well-known as Stoker's iconic classic but in my opinion even better. Lush, brooding and atmospheric, this novella must have really shocked Victorian sensibilities with its homoerotic overtones (both the vampire and the intended victim are female). This one ranks high on the short list of my favorite vampire stories.
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3. Board Game: Arkham Horror: Dunwich Horror Expansion [Average Rating:7.83 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.83 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.83 Unranked]
Michael Lavoie
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New Hampshire
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The Dunwich Horror and Others, by H.P. Lovecraft

This entry is not much about this Arkham House collection as it is about all of H.P. Lovecraft's work. While Lovecraft's merits as a writer are debateable (I find his style verbose and turgid), the enduring popularity of his creations underscores the brilliance of his conception. The Cthulhu Mythos has taken on a life of its own, growing far beyond Lovecraft to become an iconic genre. To me, what makes Lovecraft's work special is the atmosphere that he infuses into his tales, which makes up for his stylistic deficiencies.
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4. Board Game: The Awful Green Things From Outer Space [Average Rating:6.49 Overall Rank:1629]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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"Who Goes There?" by "Don A. Stuart" (actually John W. Campbell)

This is not necessarily a horror story. Rather, it's usually considered to be science fiction. It's also one of the most tense, paranoia-filled, and just plain scary tales that I've ever read. John W. Campbell is best known as as the pre-eminent editor of the Golden Age of SciFi, but he was also a pretty good writer. I cannot overstate how much I like this story. Hollywood turned it into two versions of The Thing. As unnerving as John Carpenter's film was, it really doesn't match the impact of the original story.
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5. Board Game: A Touch of Evil: Something Wicked Expansion [Average Rating:7.71 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.71 Unranked]
Michael Lavoie
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New Hampshire
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Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury

Another title that is borderline horror, this dark fantasy by a master of speculative fiction terrified me in my youth. Centering on two young boys, Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade, the story of Green Town, Illinois and what happens when Cooger and Dark's Pandemonium Shadow Show comes to town is beautifully written. The language is wonderful, the imagery is memorable and the style is fluid and graceful. Evocative and moving, this is a book that I find myself reading again every few years.
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6. Board Game: Witch of Salem [Average Rating:6.65 Overall Rank:1548]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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Salem's Lot, by Stephen King

Yet another vampire saga, and the novel that really put Stephen King on the map as a writer of horror. Big and sprawling, although not nearly as much as King's later work which has a tendency toward bloat and overkill. Salem's Lot feels rather compact by comparison. This novel showcases King's gifts for characterization and detail without sinking into excess. Sone very effective scenes and lots of big scares.
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7. Board Game: The Shining [Average Rating:6.89 Unranked]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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The Shining, by Stephen King

A great novel, one of the most frightening ever written. The Overlook Hotel and the evil within still resonate some thirty years after I first read the book. There are unforettable moments of horror (for a long time, I was reluctant to pull back the shower curtain), and the terror builds to a very satisfying denouement. Perhaps King's best full-length novel, and far superior to either of the filmed versions.
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8. Board Game: Myst [Average Rating:4.08 Overall Rank:15046]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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"The Mist," by Stephen King

Originally appearing in a collection of short fiction entitled Dark Forces (which was edited by Kirby McCauley, King's agent at the time), The Mist was published in a slightly different version in King's collection Skeleton Crew. The latter is, to me, the definitive version of this tale of horrors from beyond that engulf a Maine town, summoned from another dimension by a military experiment gone wrong. A group of survivors camps out in a supermarket, and carnage and mayhem ensue as some of the worst monsters turn out to be the human kind.

The novella is told in the first person, and the opening line is one of the simplest and most effective that I've ever read. The ending is also quietly effective. This is in contrast to the recent movie, which is pretty faithful to the source right up until the gratuitously nihilistic "twist" ending. The book's ending works much better.

Not a great work of fiction by any means, but a great work of horror.
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9. Board Game: IT [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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It, by Stephen King

I can imagine that many of you are saying, "enough King already!" Fear not, for this is the last of his works that I am including here. It is his last great work of pure horror. Allegedly, at this time he was planning for this to be his last true horror novel, and he wanted to leave nothing out, to throw in everything that he could think of to scare the reader. Does he ever! This massive novel has more terrifying scenes than any book that I can think of, with many passages that are simply difficult to read, and I mean that as a compliment.

The main characters are all likeable and engaging, either as children or as adults. What happens to them is as moving as it is frightening. It is one of the best horror novels of the last half of the 20th century, but it also shows signs of King's decline. It's longer than it really needs to be. There's too much going on here, and the book would have been improved by some judicious trimming (this can be said of most of King's work. Finally, there is at least one controversial scene where King goes too far. The end result is a truly frightening book that could have been even better.
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10. Board Game: Ghost Stories [Average Rating:7.38 Overall Rank:192]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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Ghost Story, by Peter Straub

"What's the worst thing you've ever done?"
"I won't tell you that, but I will tell you the worst thing that's ever happened to me."

This magnificent book is, in my opinion, the best novel of horror written in (at least) the last 50 years. It has everything I want in the genre: great characters, a solid story, wonderful atmosphere, and lots of scares. Lots of really big scares.

In their youth, five friends commit a terrible deed which, many years later, comes back to haunt them (literally). They come to call themselves "The Chowder Society" and get together over the years to tell each other ghost stories, until they are elderly and something comes to their hometown of Milburn, NY and starts to kill them off.

A mere summary cannot begin to suggest the impact of this book. The evil at the center of it, whether it be in the guise of Eva Galli, Alma Mobley, Ann-Veronica Moore, Anna Mostyn, or even little Angie Maule, is truly terrifying.. The film version, while well cast, fails utterly to capture her essence; she is merely a ghost whose sole power is the ability to suddenly appear as a rotting corpse. In the book she is so much more, and much more frightening.

Peter Straub has written a number of fine novels both in and out of the horror genre, but none of them match this one.
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11. Board Game: Exorcist [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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The Exorcist, by William Peter Blatty

William Friedkin's film is much better known these days than the novel that inspired it, which is rather a shame. Like Stoker's Dracula, this book encapsulates an iconic horror, in this case demonic possession. The battle for the soul of little Regan MacNeil is a compelling read, and still very frightening. It, and the film, spawned a legion of imitators. None of them matched it. Worth looking up and reading today.
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12. Board Game: Summer Storm: The Battle of Gettysburg [Average Rating:7.21 Overall Rank:6334]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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Summer of Night, by Dan Simmons

Dan Simmons is probably best known as a science fiction writer for his Hyperion and related books, but he has also written some very effective horror. This one is set in a small Illinois town circa 1960. It involves a group of pre-teen children confronting an evil that threatens to destroy everything that they hold dear. Hmmm ... I wonder why so many of these novels that I like feature kids between the ages of, say, 11 through 16. Interesting psychological issues aside, this is another evocative book that features some intense scenes of terror and horror. Simmons has written at least one sequel, A Winter Haunting, which I have not yet read.
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13. Board Game: Railways of England and Wales [Average Rating:7.94 Unranked] [Average Rating:7.94 Unranked]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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Curfew, by Phil Rickman

Published as Crybbe in Great Britain (and did I ever have a hard time finding a game to link this to! Rickman lives in Wales, so ...).

Phil Rickman is almost unknown in the United States. As far as I know, only three of his early novels have been published on this side of the Atlantic, and he currently has no US publisher although his books remain popular in Great Britain. This is a shame, because he's a fine writer.

His early work, of which this is the best example, was supernatural horror, although Rickman never considered himself a horror writer. His current work is a series of crime novels (with supernatural overtones) concerning a female priest and "deliverance mininster" - the job was formerly called "exorcist" - of the Anglican Church.

Curfew presents Rickman at his most frightening. Crybbe, a small town in Wales has a tradition that the church bells must be rung at a certain time each day to ward off an ancient evil, a practice that continues even though nobody really believes in it any more. An entrepreneur wants to create a New Age retreat in the place. It is this clash of the ancient and the modern that sets off the action.

Rickman creates believeable characters and writes fine dialogue. His horrors are often not as frightening as they could be, maybe because his heart wasn't really in that part of the work, but in this book he lets it all hang out. A fine read indeed. I'd like to someday read the British version, Crybbe, to see how it differs. Here's hoping that Phil Rickman finally gets an American publisher again so that more of us can be exposed to his work.
 
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14. Board Game: Nightmare House [Average Rating:5.88 Overall Rank:11194]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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Hell House, by Richard Matheson.

One of my favorite haunted house tales. A group of investigators, featuring a pair of psychics, spends some time in the legendarily haunted Belasco House, which has destroyed several such teams in the past. Terror ensues as things seriously go bump in the night.

The film version of this, The Legend of Hell House, is an underrated horror movie in which much more is implied than is actually shown. Very creepy and unsettling, with some fine scenery chewing by Roddy McDowall as the only survivor of the previous attempt to investigate the house.
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15. Board Game: The Haunting House [Average Rating:5.06 Overall Rank:15301]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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The Haunting of Hill House, by Shirley Jackson.

Another haunted house story that is often regarded as great literature as well as a great ghost story. Every fan of horror should read this one, and that's all I'm going to say about it. Hollywood has filmed it twice, as The Haunting, with Robert Wise's 1963 version being far superior to the recent remake. Again, it's what you don't see that is the most frightening ...
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16. Board Game: Cold Feet [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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Cold Print, by Ramsey Campbell

This British author got his start writing tales inspired by Lovecraft. This collection gathers all of his Cthulhu Mythos stories from his early days. Set in the Severn River valley, the stories are as evocative of time and place as are Lovecraft's New England tales. There's some very good horror here, and some important additions to the Mythos.

Campbell eventually outgrew his Lovecraft phase and has written a slew of very good modern horror. His best is arguably The Parasite, also known as To Wake the Dead, and The Doll Who Ate His Mother is also quite good.. Look up any of his books, they are worth the effort.
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17. Board Game: Relic Raiders: Haunted Ruins [Average Rating:4.72 Overall Rank:14294]
 
Michael Lavoie
United States
Nashua
New Hampshire
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The Ruins, by Scott Smith

The most recent novel on this list. Scott Smith's tale of four American college graduates and their Mexican vacation that takes a horrifyingly wrong turn is grim and unpleasant, and very frightening.

The characters are quite real, and their manifold flaws make them rather unlikeable at times. This can mitigate the horror somewhat, as it can be difficult to sympathize with the plight of such unpleasant characters. The source of their plight, the book's "monster" if you will, is quite unusual and some readers have found it something less than terrifying. To each his own; I bought into it hook line and sinker.

I think that this novel would make a great RPG scenario. In fact, I've considered adapting it for one of my gaming group's sort-of annual Halloween one-shot adventures. Maybe next year, as I already have an adventure for this year's game ...

edit: fixed a typo
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18. Board Game: Dead Walk Again [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Jason Cookingham
United States
Poughkeepsie
New York
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The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman

This series captures everything I love about zombies, and a lot of what I like about horror.

The zombies are a constant threat, but a manageable one. It is other people and individual sanity that are the main threats. Zombies become a great way to explore the nature of humanity under extreme circumstances.

As for the horror, it isn't just the fear kicks that draw me to horror, but tension and dread. This series has both in abundance.
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19. Board Game: Raven [Average Rating:5.80 Unranked]
Jason Cookingham
United States
Poughkeepsie
New York
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Edgar Allen Poe

While I am a big fan of his stories, I find his poetry more haunting.

Sanity (and the loss of it) is another theme in horror that I greatly enjoy.

The Raven is the famous one. You have a narrator that is mad, and only grows madder. Poe has had quite a few untrustworthy narrators, but this is one of my favorites.

The Bells is my favorite. Here, you have a narrator who starts sane, but you follow his passage into insanity.
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20. Board Game: Hoax [Average Rating:6.01 Overall Rank:6778]
Jason Cookingham
United States
Poughkeepsie
New York
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The Amityville Horror

It takes a lot to scare me. It isn't because I am such a big tough guy, but I have read so much horror that I am a bit desensitized to it.

This book scared the crap out of me. Yeah, I knew it was all a hoax going into it, but it didn't matter. The pacing and imagery are incredible. Good stuff.
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21. Board Game: Die Augen der Kali [Average Rating:4.54 Unranked]
Franklin Turner
United States
Fultondale
Alabama
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Song of Kali by Dan Simmons. This is an odd sort of horror novel. An American man and his Indian wife go to Calcutta with their infant daughter. The daughter is kidnapped and the father goes in search of his child. My reaction to this book is about the same as my reaction to the movie se7en. Its one of the greatest books I ever read and I never never want to read it again.
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22. Board Game: Citadel of Blood [Average Rating:6.34 Overall Rank:5625]
Sean P
United States
Tucson
Arizona
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Books of Blood by Clive Barker

Everyone is a book of blood
whenever we're opened, we're red


I hope I got the quote right. This collection of short stories is great and I would recommend to all horror fans. Not for the squeamish though.
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23. Board Game: Last Night on Earth: The Zombie Game [Average Rating:7.00 Overall Rank:539] [Average Rating:7.00 Unranked]
Dan Sulin
United States
Lombard
Illinois
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World War Z - Maybe not the scariest book to read for Halloween but one of the best Zombie books I have read in a long time. The stories are all first personal accounts of a global zombie outbreak. There are a couple of so so stories but most of them are very well written. It's also a great book to have for lunch breaks and short periods of downtime since the chapters are tend to be short and are episodic in nature. So you can read a chapter when you have 20 minutes and then get back to work.
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24. Board Game: Mystery Rummy: Jekyll & Hyde [Average Rating:6.64 Overall Rank:1822]
Monica B.
United States
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The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Robert Louis Stevenson creates an unforgettable literary alchemy with his classic story of moral duality. We are introduced to Dr. Jekyll, a well-respected physician, whose fascination with man's capacity and proclivities toward evil leads him to concoct a brew that produces one wicked hangover. Just ask Mr. Hyde.

The game is equally enjoyable.
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25. Board Game: Mad Scientist: Frankenbuilder [Average Rating:0.00 Unranked]
Monica B.
United States
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Frankenstein

This gothic tearjerker is nothing like what you'd imagine it would be. Dr. Frankenstein is truly the monster behind the monster, whose pitiful birth is only surpassed by his miserable existence.

Hollywood has never done this story justice.
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